Will Wood move back into the rotation, or could the club fill a void in the bullpen with him as a set-up man or closer?
Would there be less stress on Wood’s shoulder if he pitched one inning a few times a week, or six to eight innings every five days?
These are questions the Cubs are pondering.
“First, you have to talk to the doctors and see what’s more stressful for him,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said before the Cubs’ 4-3 loss Saturday night at RFK Stadium. “You’d think the combination of multiple innings is [more stressful] just because of the way it has gone, but that may not be the truth.
“You also have to realize how valuable dominant starting pitching is. I don’t think you want to do something patchwork with a guy. If you’re going to [move him to the bullpen], you’re going to do it for the rest of the year. That would be a major decision. First, we have to get him healthy before you talk about that.”
Wood will have a non-obtrusive MRI on the shoulder before he starts his rehab program, although there is no set time for the exam yet.
“We just have to take a look at it and make sure the hot spots are gone,” Rothschild said. “He feels good. Without throwing, he has felt good all along.”
Although there are no concrete plans, the idea of moving Wood to the bullpen, at least for 2005, seems to be one many in the organization endorse.
That’s not to say the Cubs will make the switch. Because of the mysterious shoulder soreness, however, they are thinking about the possibility for the first time.
The main drawback of using Wood in relief, obviously, would be his control problems. But Wood remains one of the most difficult pitchers to hit in the majors, with a great fastball and slider. Even with a sore shoulder, Wood was throwing in the range of 95-98 m.p.h. before he was shut down.
Wood fares well when compared to some other starters-turned-closers. Opposing hitters have a lifetime average of .216 against him, compared to .233 against John Smoltz, who went to the bullpen after an elbow injury and became a dominant closer before moving back to the rotation this season.
In first innings of work, opposing hitters bat .237 against Smoltz, as opposed to .229 against Wood. The difference is Smoltz has a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of about 3 to 1 in first innings, while Wood’s is a little better than 2 to 1.
Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley held opposing hitters to a .232 average in his first innings of work, but with a brilliant strikeouts-to-walks of nearly 5 to 1. Dodgers closer Eric Gagne is even tougher to hit, with a .195 opposing average in his first inning and a 5 to 1 ratio.